Condemned inmate William Castillo, who until now has declined to file appeals that could keep him alive, joined Wednesday in a state Supreme Court challenge of Nevada's lethal injection execution procedure.
The move by Castillo, represented by federal public defenders Mike Pescetta and Gary Taylor, was welcomed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which had filed the challenge in October when Castillo was scheduled to die.
"This is a total surprise to us," said Lee Rowland of the Nevada ACLU, adding, "We're very glad that our lawsuit gave Mr. Castillo the time to reconsider and decide not to volunteer for the death penalty."
The state Supreme Court stayed Castillo's execution pending the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on lethal injections in Kentucky. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Kentucky's execution method, which is similar to Nevada's. Since then, the Nevada stay has remained in effect.
Castillo's execution was stayed just 90 minutes before he was to get a lethal injection for beating an elderly Las Vegas woman to death with a tire iron.
In Castillo's intervention motion to the state Supreme Court, his federal defenders said the case should be remanded to a lower court for a hearing to get details the high court needs to "fully address the constitutionality" of Nevada's execution protocol.
After the case is fully briefed, the federal defenders said they hope the high court will find Nevada's three-drug execution protocol unconstitutional.
"Mr. Castillo's interest is the avoidance of cruel and unusual punishment upon his own person, and avoiding execution as it applies to himself," the defenders said.
Castillo is the only one of the 84 convicts under sentence of death in Nevada whose execution is being delayed by a court stay.
Nevada's injection formula includes the use of pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant, along with sodium thiopental, a "downer" that causes unconsciousness and death in some cases, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.
Castillo was sentenced to die for the 1995 beating death of Isabelle Berndt, 86, in Las Vegas after working on a roofing job at her home and finding a hidden house key. He and a female companion returned, burglarized the home and murdered Berndt.
Castillo set the home on fire to destroy evidence, but he later admitted the murder to a co-worker and confessed to police. His companion in the burglary and murder was Michelle Platou, now serving a life term with the possibility of parole.